Week 1 Dealing with Change

6 Steps to Navigate Workplace Change

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They changed the way we did our timesheets.

I thought it was going to end my career, it was so convoluted and difficult.

After a few months, it started to become clear that the new way wasn’t all that different from the old way. It just recorded the information in a different way. The main – and most painful – difference: instead of recording your time in 6-minute segments (one-tenth of an hour), we now had to use 15-minute segments.

The change created a learning curve, which was galling for a task that had been easy and second nature before the change.

The challenge wasn’t that the new timesheet was “stupid,” as we all thought at the time – but that it was different. And the change was imposed on us.

To be part of an organization is to experience change. Often outside of your control. Maybe uncomfortable. Sometimes good, but possibly very bad.

Change – especially when it is imposed on you – is hard. Here are some ways to navigate change.

Think it through as carefully as you can: Is this change good, bad, or in between?

When workplace change is truly bad, you have some choices:

  • You can fight it. You might get the change rolled back or modified. But you and I know the odds of that are against you.
  • You can flee from it – that is, get a different job. It’s an extreme measure, but it might be a good move for you.
  • You can figure out how to adjust. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.

Before you commit time and energy to one of these steps, look at the change as rationally and dispassionately as you can. Ask yourself (and others) the purpose of the change. It is no doubt intended to be an improvement. Is it?

You may realize that it isn’t all that bad. Or it may be clear you need to take strong action right away.

And there’s a fourth option on top of fight, flee, or figure: Wait and see. Sometimes it takes a while to become clear what the change means for you.

To really make this evaluation helpful, put it in writing. You’ll think more clearly if you solidify your impressions into clear statements. It will also help you put it all into the context of your values and goals in life.


Talk with others about the change. Colleagues and bosses.

Talking about it with colleagues can be a big help. But it can turn into a negativity race to the bottom, where everyone’s misgivings bolster everyone else’s, turning a small problem into a crisis in your minds.

Talking to bosses can be difficult, but it can bring good results. You may find out the change is in response to something you didn’t know about. Or they may discover that your misgivings are an unintended consequence they never wanted.

Remind yourself: change happens

Change is inevitable in every workplace. We all face it many times in our careers. This reminder can help you face it with more calm and equanimity. Whether it’s a change that will turn out to be good, or it’s less important than it seems, or it’s something that spurs you to make a bold move you’ve been afraid to make – you can make it a positive thing for you.

Ask for help if you need it

Talk to family, friends, and others outside of your organization. Most of them have also been through change like this, and their outsider viewpoint could be very helpful. If you’re struggling, consider talking to a counsellor or mental help professional about dealing with it. You aren’t alone!

Take care of yourself

Through it all, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Workplace stress is part of life, but too much of it can really mess you up. Take “mental health” days off – or even a vacation—to clear your head and de-stress. Times of change can sometimes disrupt your eating and exercise. Don’t let that happen.

Stuck in the middle?

During most of the difficult workplace changes I faced, I was in middle management. The change was handed down to me – like it or not – and it was my job to promote it with the people I managed and encourage them to accept it. That includes some changes that were unambiguously bad.

If that’s your situation, you can still take all the steps above, but you can’t include the people you report to in it. That can be difficult, because you probably like and respect them. But professionalism demands that you do your duty as a manager. That can include encouraging them to take the same steps you are taking.

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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